Escapist Podcast - Tabletop: 006: Dungeons & Dragons First Impressions

006: Dungeons & Dragons First Impressions

The Escapist staff shares some of their initial thoughts on the latest edition of D&D. What we like most and what we dislike, somethings we're surprisingly split on.

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I have to dissagree with you (one of you, can't be bothered to check who said what)on the inspiration rules. I think if you can make a shy player act out by giving inspiration you should most definately give inspiration where a more seasoned player would have to work harder. Your job as GM is not to be absolutely fair, but to make sure everybody is having fun. How do you reward the tactics guy? Give him harder combat, more chanses to shine. The guy who really exelles at RPing is rewarded best with oppertunities to RP, he won't mind that the shy guy gets a point for daring to RP a scene. Inspiration is a player reward, not a character, give it when a player exelles above his or her own baseline. And if players start "grinding" RP to gain inspuration just cut them off or don't use it.

Let's see if I can lure someone out.
Advantage/Disadvantage:

Advantage sucks

It does speed up the game, but I feel that it does boil down to a binary choice- either you have it, or you don't. One of the things that people disliked about was that it broke the game into discrete encounters- you had surges and encounter power that would reset, there were certain bonuses or buffs that ended at points decided by the metagame, and all that stuff that made it feel separate. Meanwhile, 3rd Edition made every battle feel like a war. Here's a wonderful forum post from EN World about the difference and why it might or might not matter to your group.

With 5E, it feels like they are trying to go back to having a continuous experience, but Advantage works against that. No matter if you take 3 days to carefully plan your attack on the goblins -setting up smokescreens, spreading caltrops, digging foxholes, disguising yourselves to sneak in, and otherwise doing everything possible to tip the odds in your favour- or if you just wait until dusk and stroll on up, you still get the same mechanical bonus. Combat isn't designed to be tactically interesting (as CJ[?] points out at the start of the episode, it feels like Mearls is backpedaling away from saying anything with confidence about the good points of 5E combat), but it also doesn't allow people to dig for every possible advantage and secure their victory one millimeter at a time until they cover a kilometer.

*****

Inspiration: I'm surprised CJ didn't bring up the system he told me he used in his 4E games. If someone does feel the need to tie mechanics to roleplay, having a "Consistent RP" award is much more understandable than a case-by-case basis, because it encourages characters to be a well-rounded, believable thing, with ups and downs and changes to personality, rather than having to be the dumb berserker because that's what you started playing as, and that's what you've been rewarded for in the past.

*****

The Fighter Problem: I like that WotC is taking steps to try and bring the fighter and the wizard into more parity, but I don't think they understood the complaint. Giving the fighter more actions per round makes them feel better, but it doesn't really do much for them. I've seen the face of a 3.5 fighter light up in a 4E game when he realised he had more options than just "hit the bad guys a bunch"; they could use a Defender Aura and act like this bulwark, they could call out enemies and challenge them (which has both a mechanical and, if you're GMing right, a roleplay effect), and they could just generally make choices instead of just rolling more dice. I'm really disappointed they took maneuvers and action dice out of the core rules, and I really hope they bring them back in the PHB. Don't just say, "Fighters have to be creative"; give us tools to make Fighters creative.

(just to be different)
ADVANTAGE ROCKS!

Its simple, its versatile and it doesn't disrupt the flow of combat. If a party spends 3 days planning the attack, come with a variety of equipment and mobilise a peasant army as distraction they get a bonus, as would rocking up at dusk. What the GM can do make it fair is say, "You came at dusk, you have advantage for first round of combat" with full scale war the GM could say "you have advantage, until your plan falls apart". This in turn could prompt players to come up with A B and C plans which in game play, narrative and combat terms is always more fun, everyone loves a "What's plan B?" "Plan A with more panic" etc.

INSPIRATION

I like inspiration, I don't like the implementation. I feel it should be a discreet bonus, held and used by the GM. As a GM I could say "this player has played well, in character, is important etc they need to pass this roll I will give them/use their inspiration"

Devious Deed:
(just to be different)
ADVANTAGE ROCKS!

Its simple, its versatile and it doesn't disrupt the flow of combat. If a party spends 3 days planning the attack, come with a variety of equipment and mobilise a peasant army as distraction they get a bonus, as would rocking up at dusk. What the GM can do make it fair is say, "You came at dusk, you have advantage for first round of combat" with full scale war the GM could say "you have advantage, until your plan falls apart". This in turn could prompt players to come up with A B and C plans which in game play, narrative and combat terms is always more fun, everyone loves a "What's plan B?" "Plan A with more panic" etc.

I think you misunderstood me. I don't like advantage because it doesn't stack. As they point out in the episode, it's often a case where you really need, or you really don't. With proper planning, a group in 3.5 can wipe out a horde of 50 goblins, the elite golems of the dark wizard's army, and anything in between by sending in the wizard preparing the battleground to their advantage to ensure they always hit with all their traps and attacks, getting every possible +1 until success is assured. Advantage gives you better odds to hit, true, but some unlucky rolls and/or bad modifiers could lead to the enemy strolling through your careful trap by sheer dint of luckiness. All the plans in the world won't help when you trap the bad guys in the pit, saturate them with oil, and can't manage to toss in an alchemical grenade. At that point, the DM has to decide that the narrative is more important than gameplay and say they burn (creating a break between the two when they should work together), or allow the dice to land where they may and break the narrative/gameplay combo the other way.

Advantage is simple, versatile and non-disruptive, true, and I really wished that it worked. Unfortunately, a d20 is just too big a range for a reroll mechanic to work properly when there will already be modifiers from magic weapons, skills, etc. in play. With modifiers, you can understand the mechanical way to get the narrative goal you want, even if it requires a series of charts to be on hand. With advantage, you get two shots and just have to hope that the random number gods agree with the fiction.

Thunderous Cacophony:
With 5E, it feels like they are trying to go back to having a continuous experience, but Advantage works against that. No matter if you take 3 days to carefully plan your attack on the goblins -setting up smokescreens, spreading caltrops, digging foxholes, disguising yourselves to sneak in, and otherwise doing everything possible to tip the odds in your favour- or if you just wait until dusk and stroll on up, you still get the same mechanical bonus. Combat isn't designed to be tactically interesting (as CJ[?] points out at the start of the episode, it feels like Mearls is backpedaling away from saying anything with confidence about the good points of 5E combat), but it also doesn't allow people to dig for every possible advantage and secure their victory one millimeter at a time until they cover a kilometer.

Note: I've yet to actually play 5e and have only briefly skimmed the basic rules at this point.

I think you describe a situation where the DM would take action beyond the rules. Advantage/Disadvantage covers quick and simple rule disputes/minutia that would otherwise kill the pacing of the game. If your players are metagaming the system then it's up to you to encourage other avenues through rewards or potentially punish the behavior as a DM.

In regards to the Fighter / Rogue:
I'm highly disappointed with their game play options. They once again come across as the 'boring' class to play with very little engaging combat options. This is 100% fine if these are to be viewed as beginner/'essentials' classes. New players to the game deserve a class that can ease them into the experience.

That said, the classes look boring on paper and deserve more substance built into the class. If I were to simply brainstorm a few ideas below:

- Bonus Actions dedicated to combat tricks: Neck Thrust, Dirt Kick, Trip, Push, Disarm. These could be free bonus actions given to the fighter in addition to the added attacks. These things help them manipulate the board in ways other than damage. No one wants to trade off an attack for a bull rush. But if they get a FREE bull rush then why not?

- Targeted Attacks: Attack legs for move speed detriment, arms for attack damage detriment, head for added damage. You could make a TON of these if you wanted with various detriments to attack rolls for varied benefits based on the drawback. Think Power Attack, but with added flexibility and depth.

All right, listening to the whole 3.5 complaints section about crazy multi-classing and such was representative of poor GMing. story telling is my main-stay. I must not be like most GMs because if things don't work, or you can't manage your party... you have the problem.
Tell a player NO. Yes, some players want to optimize their combat. and that's good. You always need someone to carry combat for players that want to play social or other non-combat characters.
When I run a game, I decide what books are permissible. Usually anything within the setting we are in. If we are in Eberon, then there's no Forgotten Realms books, or raven loft. Books that fit with classes specificity, such as the Complete series is a little more complicated. Generally, it's a yes or no to the whole set. And as I don't have PHYSICAL copies of those books, usually it's a NO.

It's up to the GM to keep things in focus. Bitching about optional material like splat books is a cop-out.

Andrew Majik:
All right, listening to the whole 3.5 complaints section about crazy multi-classing and such was representative of poor GMing. story telling is my main-stay. I must not be like most GMs because if things don't work, or you can't manage your party... you have the problem.
Tell a player NO. Yes, some players want to optimize their combat. and that's good. You always need someone to carry combat for players that want to play social or other non-combat characters.
When I run a game, I decide what books are permissible. Usually anything within the setting we are in. If we are in Eberon, then there's no Forgotten Realms books, or raven loft. Books that fit with classes specificity, such as the Complete series is a little more complicated. Generally, it's a yes or no to the whole set. And as I don't have PHYSICAL copies of those books, usually it's a NO.

It's up to the GM to keep things in focus. Bitching about optional material like splat books is a cop-out.

I respectfully disagree. As someone who DM'd from day 1 of 3.0 to the final days of 3.5, I saw the pile of splatbooks growing and growing. I did my best to keep up with them, and I disallowed most of them from my campaigns. Yes, it is up to me to say "Yes" or "No."

But guess what?

Players don't like to be told "no." They get excited about looking through the new books, finding new powers, new spells, new items, new feats, and combining them all in different ways. In publishing more and more splat books, Wizards is basically saying, "This is how we expect the game to be played." When the DM says "no," it's difficult to not come across as a miserly curmudgeon who is just a buzzkill.

As much as possible, I would try to evaluate every single book, power, feat, etc. on a case-by-case basis. But it becomes overwhelming. "Oh crap, I allowed this feat from Book 1 and that item from Book 2; now they combine that into something overpowered, and I have to go back on my word or the whole game is broken."

DM has final say on everything, yes. But when players want to use all these fancy new books that keep coming out, and the DM says no, well... They may just look for a new DM. A DM is allowed to run any kind of game he wants to run... and a player is allowed to decide not to play.

Thunderous Cacophony:
*snip*

It was during the podcast that the perils of Advantage started to become clear to me. I'm not a fan of this no-stacking at all. As a general rule, to keep things moving fast, fine. But if players want to plan out something elaborate, I will certainly house rule in stacking +2 (or whatever) bonuses. I feel your pain.

Oh, as a corollary to the bonus point system I used for consistent RP, we even found that it allowed nicely for character growth. A sample discussion: "Hm, Thovinion showed compassion to you today. That was out-of-character. Maybe he's growing; maybe he's softening up. Let's remember this and see how it progresses." The first glimpses of character growth aren't rewarded (nor do they detract from reward), but once that growth starts to become a consistent trait, then it is rewarded. Sure enough, that player had thought out a character arc in which he would become "nicer" over time, thanks to the companionship of his fellow PCs.

 

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